Fr. Roger J. Landry
Conclave Series for the New Bedford Standard Times
March 16, 2013
In his first full day as the successor of St. Peter, Pope Francis did three significant things that gave the world a glimpse of how he envisions and intends to exercise the papacy.
The first was an early morning trip to the Basilica of St. Mary Major, the most prestigious Catholic Church in the world dedicated to the Virgin Mary. When he spoke the balcony after his election, he announced that he “wished to go to pray to Our Lady, that she may watch over all of Rome.”
This was more than a gesture of ecclesial entrustment or personal piety. It was also a clear demonstration, on the first day of his papacy, of the real nature of the Church. The Church, Pope John Paul II famously said in 1987, is more “Marian” than “Petrine.” The hierarchy that matters most is not the one of holy orders with the successor of St. Peter at the summit but the one of holiness topped by Mary.
The Church, like Mary, is supposed to love God with a “virginal” love, placing him above all other loves; should embrace all God’s children with a maternal heart; and should faithfully say to God, “Let it be done to me according to your word.”
When many look at the Church, Catholics and non-Catholics both, they often identify it with the Pope, Bishop, priests and other members of the hierarchy of holy orders. Pope Francis was trying to teach that before the Church is “Petrine” it must be “Marian,” and that every leader and member of the Church must be distinguished above all by imitating Mary’s faith.
The reform of the Church begins with a renewal in faith as exemplified by Mary.
The second thing Pope Francis did was to stop on his way back to the Vatican at the Domus Paul VI, the priests’ residence where he was staying before the conclave, so that he personally could collect his belongings, thank the staff, and pay his bill.
When asked why he gave his security detail a coronary, he indicated that he wanted to set an example for everyone — and especially priests! — of the importance of justice, fulfilling one’s responsibilities and paying one’s debts. In doing so, he showed that the papacy hasn’t changed him and that he continues to live a simple life devoid of pretension and a sense of privilege.
The reform of the Church requires this sense of personal accountability.
The last thing he did was to celebrate his first Mass as Pope, returning to the Sistine Chapel with the Cardinals who had elected him. In his homily, which he preached in the direct, colloquial form of parish priests at a pulpit rather than the traditional papal form of sitting down and reading, he called the Cardinals and the Church throughout the world to get moving in three ways:
First, to follow Jesus Christ by walking with faith in the light of his presence and teachings. Many who confess Jesus, he implied, don’t really act on his words. He was summoning everyone, beginning with the Cardinals, to this Christian integrity.
Second, to build up the Church by becoming strong, consistent, living stones grounded on Christ the foundation stone. Many erect only sand castles, he said, that can’t resist the tides. Beginning with himself, he was calling everyone to build their lives on rock.
Finally, to confess Jesus Christ as the first and supreme act of love toward others. Particularly in Latin America, the Church has lost thousands because many have begun to view the Church merely as a philanthropic organization that runs schools, hospitals, and pantries. He was calling all believers to care for others’ deepest desires, wounds, and hungers by bringing them to Jesus the teacher, physician, and living bread.
In seven minutes, he proposed a simple three-point plan for the beginning of the renewal and reform of the Church he was elected to carry out — humbly hoping that all members of the Church will walk, build and confess together with him.